The Vedas and the creation of the world

In the last post in this series I took a look at the Indus valley and its gods. The reasons for the demise of the Indus valley are still debated, but it is widely believed that the migration patterns of the Aryan people bought them down into the green valleys of the Indus and beyond. The Aryans were hunter gatherers and drove herds of animals with them. The greener & warmer pastures of the belt between the Indus and the Ganges, had these people become farmers and planters and settle down in these regions. 

The Aryans were responsible for the transcription of the Vedas (literally ‘knowledge’) – the foremost four texts of the Hindu faith – and essentially acted as the seed bed for the current incarnation of the religion.

The four Vedas are (in order of prominence)

  1. Rigveda (1700 – 1100 BC)
  2. Yajurveda (1000 – 600 BC)
  3. Samaveda (1600 – ?? BC)
  4. Atharvaveda (1000 – ?? BC)

The Rigveda, in its 1028 hymns, makes mention of the gods and talks about the creation of the world. It is a primary reference for identifying the gods and the pantheon and also provides directions on worship and ritual.

The Rigveda mentions 2-3 creation myths, providing bias to the fact that the books had multiple authors and were completed over many years; indeed centuries. I will visit these in the future. In this post I am going to discuss one of the hymns in the Rigveda that inspire the principle of skeptical analysis and rational thought.

One of the most prominent hymns in the Rigveda is titled the Nasadiya Sukta  and is also known as the Creation Hymn. _Na asat_ which is the root of the word Nasadiya means ‘not the nonexistent’.

The original text of the hymn in Sanskrit verse is below followed by an english translation.

नासदासींनॊसदासीत्तदानीं नासीद्रजॊ नॊ व्यॊमापरॊ यत् ।

किमावरीव: कुहकस्यशर्मन्नभ: किमासीद्गहनं गभीरम् ॥१॥

न मृत्युरासीदमृतं न तर्हि न रात्र्या।आन्ह।आसीत् प्रकॆत: ।

आनीदवातं स्वधया तदॆकं तस्माद्धान्यन्नपर: किंचनास ॥२॥

तम।आअसीत्तमसा गूह्ळमग्रॆ प्रकॆतं सलिलं सर्वमा।इदम् ।

तुच्छॆनाभ्वपिहितं यदासीत्तपसस्तन्महिना जायतैकम् ॥३॥

कामस्तदग्रॆ समवर्तताधि मनसॊ रॆत: प्रथमं यदासीत् ।

सतॊबन्धुमसति निरविन्दन्हृदि प्रतीष्या कवयॊ मनीषा ॥४॥

तिरश्चीनॊ विततॊ रश्मीरॆषामध: स्विदासी ३ दुपरिस्विदासीत् ।

रॆतॊधा।आसन्महिमान् ।आसन्त्स्वधा ।आवस्तात् प्रयति: परस्तात् ॥५॥

कॊ ।आद्धा वॆद क।इह प्रवॊचत् कुत ।आअजाता कुत ।इयं विसृष्टि: ।

अर्वाग्दॆवा ।आस्य विसर्जनॆनाथाकॊ वॆद यत ।आबभूव ॥६॥

इयं विसृष्टिर्यत ।आबभूव यदि वा दधॆ यदि वा न ।

यॊ ।आस्याध्यक्ष: परमॆ व्यॊमन्त्सॊ आंग वॆद यदि वा न वॆद ॥७॥

The english translation which follows has been drawn from multiple sources including Shyam Benegal’s acclaimed show – The Discovery of India based on the book by Jawaharlal Nehru. The final choice of words in the translation is mine.

Before creation there was no truth, there were no lies either.

The was no sky nor the stars beyond.

What was hidden? Where? Who was hiding it?

At that time there was no unfathomable ocean also.

There was no death, nor was there life.

There was no day and no night. And no winds.

The supreme element that was breathed without breath on impulse.

Beyond which there was nothing.

The seed of creation emerged in the primal mind.

It took the form of erotic love.

The poets and the seers learned

The close relation between dark and light.

What separated the being from the non-being?

Is the primal element at this time, above or below?

It was divided. It had manifested as the male and the female.

The sky was above and the earth was below.

How was the universe formed? Who formed it? Where has it (the universe) come from?

Does anyone know this reality? Can he describe it?

The gods themselves do not know. They were formed after creation.

The real creator of the universe, does anyone know him?

Who is the preserver of creation? Is he a preserver or a destroyer?

He resides above the sky, and sits as a judge over all, always.

He may know the truth, or he may not.

Yet this knowledge is known by none.

The creation hymn provides us with key insights into certain aspects of Hinduism which still exist.

  1. Rational thought – The Hindu is not asked to blindly follow a practice or a belief. He is advised to question everything about his religion and only with the self-same understanding give his faith.
  2. Laws of nature prevail – From the lowest to the highest, everyone including the gods are subject to the laws of nature and are answerable to one more superior than them.
  3. Balance – The negative and the positive must exist in a balance to ensure that creation and life can exist.

It is interesting to note that the creation hymn has a few features in common with the Big Bang theory. The Big Bang model theorizes that the universe was once in an extremely hot and dense state which began to expand rapidly (and continues to do so) and resulted in the current state of the world.

The Nasadiya also talks about the universe forming from a mass, ignited by a seed or the heat of ‘lust’.


Further Reading & References-

  1. The Rig Veda

  2. Nepal-German Manuscript preservation project